For the second year in a row, VIBE traveled to Manchester, Tennessee to experience Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, known for its good vibes and even better music, for four full days of musical madness on the infamous farm.
With 2016 marking the long-standing festival’s 15th anniversary, it was surely one for the books: memorable, momentous and unreal, bringing together the likes of hip-hop heavyweights, appealing alt acts, R&B’s newest vanguards, genre-bending DJ’s and much more that kept festival-goers jamming ’til sunrise.
Chance The Rapper
Since his 2014 debut on the farm, Chance The Rapper and Bonnaroo have become best buds in a sense. He’s camped out on the grounds with fans in true Roo fashion. He’s had unforgettable surprise appearances alongside Kendrick Lamar during Earth, Wind & Fire’s set. And who could forget his 2015 SuperJam performance that included covers of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime,” Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,”, and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison?” Honestly, you never know what the 23-year-old has up his sleeve when it comes to the multi-stage camping event. And last week, he rivaled himself, going down in Roo history with a new nickname as the mayor of Bonnaroo. While he wasn’t on this year’s lineup, that didn’t stop the South Side-bred rapper from attending the four-day festival, giving his fans many rare musical moments ranging from popping up onstage with J. Cole, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Miguel, and sprinting to the stage during Bryson Tiller’s set and hurling his fists in the air as the beat to “No Problems” dropped. Complete pandemonium ensued every time. And for those that were lucky, like us, they’d spy Chance chilling in the press area amongst us common folk and taking in various artists’ sets. To close out the weekend in a major way, he’d pull out all the stops on Sunday (June 12) with an impromptu listening session of Color Book in the Silent Disco, where 500 fans packed out the venue to (silently) witness the greatness of Chancelor Bennett. Oh yeah, and the next day, he tweeted, “Hey @Bonnaroo I love you. See you next year.”
There’s something very ethereal about The Internet. So much so that 10 minutes into their set, you forget about the blazing Tennessee heat and the beads of sweat rolling down your face. Most times, singers with sensually sweet voices become lost in translation on festival stages, but it’s apparent that front woman Syd Tha Kyd has been hard at work for the past year to make her anomaly of a voice her own since their rise to critical acclaim with their third studio LP, Ego Death. For day one fans and those that just caught their wave, the band balanced their show out with throwbacks, newer jams and some of their more high-energy tracks to keep the crowd energized. But it was their performance of “Curse,” a bonus-like bass and falsetto-driven track, in which guitarist Steve Lacy flexes his vocals alongside Syd’s that had the crowd at a loss for words. And when Pharrell secretly shows up to your set, you know you’re pretty much the s**t .
Only Casanova-like crooner Miguel could pack out a tent well past midnight, after the festival shut down all of its stages for 65 minutes while a thunderstorm blew through Manchester. Throughout his damn near flawless set, he’d rock the crowd with a handful of his chart-topping hits dating back to 2010. It was the kind of set where you’d see couples discreetly grinding to “Adorn,” proud singles smoothly body rolling to “Quickie,” while reminiscing about some of their best low-maintenance lovers, and genre-less music junkies partaking in air guitar to “face the sun.” Our Assistant Editor, Stacy-Ann Ellis, was in awe to the point that she equated his Bonnaroo debut to that of “an electric moment worth reliving.”
Tyler, The Creator
Odd Future may now be a defunct collective with a bunch hopefuls waiting with fingers crossed for a reunion, but fans still come out in hoards to pledge their allegiance to its group members, including Tyler, The Creator. But even still, he divulged very shortly into his set that he wasn’t sure if Tennessee “fucked with him.” “I’ve got 50 minutes, can I just jump around and yell?” he asked the crowd, turning up the This Tent with his longtime pals Taco on the turntables and Jasper on the mic. Tyler is the type of artist who suffers from severe asthma, but doesn’t abandon his stage presence because of it. While performing tracks like “48,” “Domo 23,” “IFHY,” “Tamale,” “What The F**k Right Now,” “DEATHCAMP, and “Tron Cat,” the crowd repeated the lyrics word-for-word while T hit his smoothest Dougie and Harlem Shake.
DJ sets at festivals can sometimes be chancy, contingent upon both the crowds energy and the turntablist’s vibes. But Bonnaroo-goers gave a warm welcome to Norweigan musican/producer/DJ and turntablist Cashmere Cat, whose dreamy electronic dance sound controlled the crowd, even though he never actually addressed them like most DJs. His actual stage set up was nothing fancy to gawk at, just a simple black stage with intense, iridescent lights beaming every moment the beat of a track dropped. For those that weren’t familiar with his catalogue, the music was surely infectious enough to keep you entertained. But it was his live edit of Kanye West’s “Waves” and “Wolves” (which he has a producing credit on from The Life Of Pablo) that grabbed the attention of most. And a spin of his unexpected 2015 collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Be My Baby,” solidified his set as a full-fledged lituation.
Twenty two-year-old LBC-born rapper Vince Staples embarked on a cross-country trip to for his Bonnaroo debut and didn’t disappoint. Staples live is in ways a gift that keeps on giving. He doesn’t just run through his set with agility and ease (with his asthma pump not too far behind), but he’s also down for cracking a joke or two and trolling the audience. And it also doesn’t hurt that you can genuinely feel his energetic vibes draw in the crowd with a single wave of his hand from left to right while performing tracks from Summertime ’06, his critically acclaimed double album debut.
DMV rapper Goldlink has a festival-filled summer ahead of him, performing at Soundset, Firefly, Wildlife, Lovebox and many others well into the end of August. Bonnaroo, the second of his 12 stops, got to experience his dynamic live set featuring the quirky future bounce sound he birthed from influences ranging from rhythmic Go-Go to the hip-hop-tinged R&B of the 90’s. Goldlink brought along his whole crew (Louie Lastic, DJ Kidd Marvel, and Brass Tracks) to jazz things up with a live band element, performing tracks like “Ay Ay,” “Spectrum,” “Late Night,” “Dance On Me,” and many more. An honorable mention goes to Marvel’s remix of Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy,” where we witnessed Goldlink let loose and cut up.
Chicago-based DJ duo Flosstradamus brought the ratchetness to Bonnaroo, and we mean that in the best way possible. There was a bunch of hair tossing, twerking, and turning up when they hit the stage to party with their fans, better known as, #HDYNATION. J2K (Josh) and Autobot (Curt) both forerunners of the EDM trap wave of the 2010s, took turns holding down the turntables and rocking the mic, while keeping hits like Desiigner’s “Panda” and Rihanna’s “B***h Better Have My Money” in rotation. The highlight of the night was a synth-heavy revamp of Soulja Boy’s “Pretty Boy Swag.”
We’ve got five words for Bryson Tiller: the glo’ up is real. No one currently occupying the lane of the newly-adopted fusion genre Rap&B has seen quite the career trajectory the 23-year-old Louisville, KY artist has, flipping his SoundCloud success into 2015 debut, T R A P S O U L. His success was also fermented with three tracks charting the Billboard Hot 100 within three months, venturing on his own North American tour, and taking the main stage at Hot 97’s legendary Summer Jam. So, when it came to Bonnaroo, his first festival performance ever, things fell right into place and without a hitch. When it comes down to the particulars, there was nothing new or life changing about his performance for those that have already experienced him live. “Exchange,” “Been That Way,” and “For However Long” all cranked with the same smooth, slow-rolling tempo and Pen Griffey quotable bars music junkies have grown to love him for. A highlight of his performance did present itself when Chance The Rapper hopped on stage and turned up the crowd with “Blessings.” Tiller closed out his set strong with the single song that took him from working at Papa John’s and UPS to chilling in the Hollywood Hills, “Don’t,” as the crowd sang the entire song in unison, word-for-word.
Don’t let Jermaine Cole’s sleepy disposition fool you. The man knows how to take any lifeless stage and set it ablaze come showtime. All six feet and some-odd inches of J.Cole sprinted across Bonnaroo’s What Stage with a ballplayer’s energy as he ran the through the most hype selections from his six-project plus discography. He maneuvered from The Sideline Story selects like “Nobody’s Perfect” into the major 2014 Forest Hills Drive faves like “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” “No Role Modelz” and “Wet Dreamz.” A special shout out to Cole for sonning the unfortunate Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in “No Role Modelz.” As a treat for his day ones, he even pulled goodies like “Lights Please” off The Warm Up out his vault. And of course, how could we forget how the Rapper’s Champ brought out the Peoples’ Champ Chance The Rapper for a surprise performance of “No problem”? Talk about an experience like no other at a festival like no other. —Stacy-Ann Ellis
Kamasi Washington is an artist that embodies the many wonders of music with a single tenor saxophone. From his contributions to To Pimp a Butterfly to his own impressive 2015 record, The Epic, a 172-minute, triple disc brimming with an undeniable rhythm. Washington & Co. brought the same grand gesture to Bonnaroo feeding the home of Johnny Cash smothered, down-home soul.
Beyoncé and 20-year-old French-Cuban twins Ibeyi may be pretty much synonymous at this point after B randomly teased a short clip from a video from her September Vogue cover story featuring an excerpt of their track “River.” And then months later, the magical, multi-cultural music duo popped up in Lemonade. But Bonnaroo was the best place to show that beyond B’s co-sign, they’ve got something worth listening to. With Naomi on the percussive instruments of the Cajon and the Batas, and Lisa on the keys, the ladies slayed the stage.
Twenty eight-year-old alt hip-hop artist Lizzo wasn’t even on our list of artist sets to catch, but her DJ was so lit that we scarfed down our sugar-tinged funnel cakes and scurried to the half-packed tent that was quickly filling. An answer to this generation’s Missy Elliott, Lizzo is super duper fly. She’s got thorough bars and a set of powerhouse vocal chops that boast of a theatrical “it” factor. “Good As Hell,” “Let ’em Say,” and “Batches & Cookies” were just a few of the tracks that drew us in instantly and had us two-stepping with strangers. With an all-gal crew of dancers, MCs, and DJ holding her down and lyrics boasting of body-posi sentiments (listen to “My Skin“), more than her talent, we’re sure the tentful of people were feeling what she symbolizes in the industry’s male-dominated setting, converting people over to her Big Grrrl Small World movement.